Ofsted report: 'aggressive language' or schoolyard banter?

Jun 19, 2012
Ben Raworth

Watchdog praises schools that allow transgender children but says most are failing to tackle bullying

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EDUCATION watchdog Ofsted has released a report in which it praises some schools for recognising transgender children, but strongly criticises others for allowing "aggressive language" in the playground.  

The Ofsted study - 'No Place For Bullying' – is based on discussions with 1,357 pupils and 800 staff from around the country. While the pupils recounted a huge range of disparaging terms that they hear in an average week, teachers said that they either hear none, or take the language to be playground banter, The Daily Telegraph reports.
The range of terms labelled by Ofsted as "aggressive language" will be familiar to anybody who has ever been near children or, indeed, a school. 'Gay', 'spaz', and 'slag' are all commonly used, as well as terms like 'batty man', 'mong' and 'lez'.
Ofsted believes that the way children speak to each other is more than banter, and is the seed of bullying. "Few schools had a clear stance on the use of language or the boundaries between banter and behaviour that makes people feel threatened or hurt," the report states.
The link between this language and bullying is not made clear: the report goes on to say that bullying victims are chosen for a number of reasons including being clever, 'posh' or too tall or short. The report also notes that what some might consider offensive terms – even terms of racial abuse – are often used affectionately between friends.
The Ofsted study comes under fire from some, however, when it praises certain schools for encouraging pupils to behave in "non-gender stereotypical ways". At one primary school a six-year-old chose to wear a "tutu all day without comment from his peers", other boys preferred "cheerleading to football".
"Schools are labelling children as young as four as 'transgender' simply because they want to dress up as the opposite sex," says the Daily Mail. While agreeing that any positive action against bullying is to be praised, the paper said the report "provoked disquiet".
How, they ask, can children and schools decide that they are transgender when most studies suggest that children who think they are the wrong sex "change their minds when they reach adolescence".

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When primary schools deal with the vast numbers of pupils who can barely speak English and the increasing incidence of sexual assaults in the playground following explicit and even abusive sex education classes, I'll congratulate them for letting boys wear girls' clothes etc.

I'm sure that bullies do use 'aggressive language', but that doesn't mean that disparaging language is the first step on the road to bullying. Kids have always given and taken banter. We do need to be careful that the bureaucrats don't start imposing a level of political correctness that will have our kids growing up as linguistic zombies unable to express themselves for fear of getting into trouble